Bailiffs only a very last resort, say ‘firm but fair’ Hartlepool council bosses

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Council bosses in Hartlepool say they will only send in the bailiffs to collect debts as a last resort.

The pledge came after new figures show Hartlepool Borough Council instructed enforcement agents to recover debts from individuals and businesses 135 times in 2014-15.

Sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems rather than solve them

Joanna Elson, Money Advice Trust

That was an increase of 63% in two years, but the council was one of the lowest ranked local authorities for using bailiffs in England and Wales.

The number of debts passed to bailiffs in Hartlepool was equivalent to 0.3% of properties in the area, placing the council 318 out of 326 local authorities.

The figures were gained using Freedom of Information powers by the Money Advice Trust charity that runs National Debtline.

It is calling on councils to do more to help people before calling in the debt collectors under its Stop The Knock campaign.

Hartlepool council says it operates a “firm but fair” policy to collecting tax and only uses bailiffs as a last resort.

A spokesman said: “Using an Enforcement Agent previously called a bailiff for collection is always a last resort.

“The council operates a firm but fair approach to the collection of council tax.

“We understand that some people can find it hard to pay their council tax and we offer advice and guidance to residents who find themselves in this unfortunate position.

“In the first instance, householders are encouraged to apply for financial support and we believe the earlier residents can get help the better.

“However, recovery action – including the use of bailiffs – is taken to cover those cases where people can pay, but won’t pay.

“We do have a duty to pursue what we are owed on an ongoing basis and our long-term council tax collection rate is over 99%.”

In contrast to Hartlepool, Durham County Council instructed bailiffs on 13,619 occasions, an increase of 112% in two years.

Stockton-on-Tees, which covers Wolviston village, Billingham and parts of Wynyard, used them 1,209 times, a 79% decrease.

Joanna Elson OBE, chief executive of the Money Advice Trust, said: “On the front line of debt advice we know that sending the bailiffs in can deepen debt problems, rather than solve them – and it can also have a severe impact on the wellbeing of people who are often already in a vulnerable situation.

“Bailiff action is not only harmful to those in arrears – it is also a poor deal for the council taxpayer.”